Monday, 29 July 2013

Ennio Morricone at IMMA, Kilmainham

We went to Ennio Morricone at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Kilmainham, yesterday. Nothing against Ennio, the orchestra and choir, who gave it their all, but it wasn’t the most enjoyable live experience. The weather played its sad part, with thunderous downpours beforehand, and intermittent rain during the show. This alternated with some sunshine, so those of us who’d come prepared with wet gear and wellie boots were both soaked and sweltering betimes, and sometimes at the same time.

Of course, promoter John Reynolds and POD Productions are not responsible for the Irish weather (although, this being Ireland, there’s at least an even money chance it will be inclement, even in summer). What can be griped about is that the tickets said ‘Gates 4pm’, and we got an e mail three weeks ago telling us ‘Gates will now open at 5.30pm’, but no other information was forthcoming or contact made. Some people got more recent e mails and texts, others didn’t. It was all very haphazard.

So what transpired was that people were sat at the mercy of the elements for the best part of three hours, until Ennio made his entrance shortly before 8.30, while the film Cinema Paradiso played on two small screens either side of the stage. In God’s name, what genius thought of this as a ‘support act’? Sitting in the wet, while a film you can neither see nor hear properly plays, a film most people have seen previously, a film they could be watching in the relative comfort of their own homes, on wide screen televisions with surround sound systems. Another ‘Orish’ solution which beggars belief.

A simple pre-gig e mail would have meant that people who just wanted to see Signore Morricone could have rocked up at 8pm, instead of 5.30pm. So what was the reason for this farce, John? So the food and booze stands could make more money from the captive audience, and you don’t even have to pay a support act, just hire a DVD?

I’m not one to complain about the cost of events after the fact. If you’re prepared to pay the asking price, then shut up about it afterwards. It’s your choice. BUT…one expects a certain standard of service, rather than being left with the feeling that someone has pulled a fast one on you. All in all, €86 a pop (for the cheap seats) represents very poor value for money, in this instance. Even the outrageously priced Tom Waits a few years ago in the Phoenix Park was in a tent. Even MCD have learnt how to organize an outdoor event that is good-humoured, hassle-free, and a pleasure to attend, witness last week’s Longitude in Marlay Park. Was there any reason this gig couldn’t have taken place in the O2? It certainly wasn’t a question of capacity, as I’m sure the O2 holds more that were in IMMA last night.

So what’s the story, John? Why treat the punters with, at best, indifference, or, at worst, contempt? Arrivederci, Ennio, I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to see and hear you perform again. But if I do, I hope it’s in more comfortable surroundings.  

Sunday, 28 July 2013

J J Cale - R.I.P.

Another great goes down. Sad mews of J J Cale's passing, aged 74, from a heart attack. His laconic style went against the grain of most country/blues playing of the time. Here's the Guardian obituary (which makes rather too much mention of Eric Clapton for my liking):

Jason Pierce (aka Jason Spaceman) of Spiritualized did a cover of Cale's 'Call Me The Breeze' on Laser Guided Melodies, retitling it 'Run' - because it's actually Jason's clever conflation of 'Call Me The Breeze' (lyrically) with The Velvet Underground's 'Run, Run, Run' (musically). All made slightly more confusing because John Cale, with whom J J was himself sometimes erroneously creatively conflated, was then a member of the VU.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Bob Dylan - Tempest

This lost a few paragraphs when it appeared on in September 2012, perhaps understandably. Here it is, then, in its full, undiluted glory...

Bob Dylan Tempest (Columbia)

In many ways, Bob Dylan’s new album, his 35th studio recording in a 50 year career, is unreviewable, as almost any record he releases at this point in his illustrious and storied career would be. (Not that this has prevented every soi-disant rock scribe, including this one, from queuing up to get their tuppence worth in). I mean this not in the general way Roland Barthes isolates in ‘Blind and Dumb Criticism’, whereby ‘Critics…often use two rather singular arguments: the first consists in suddenly deciding that the true subject of criticism is ineffable, and criticism, as a consequence, unnecessary; the other…in confessing that one is too stupid, too unenlightened to understand a work reputedly philosophical’; nor indeed, conversely, in the even larger sense Susan Sontag rails against in ‘Against Interpretation’.
  Specifically, a contemporary Bob Dylan album of new material is difficult, if not impossible, to review because of whatever relationship it will occupy with his singular and, in terms of innovation, unrivalled back catalogue. This complication of comparison with past work, a mostly useful commonplace of critical discourse, applies to Dylan in a way it doesn’t to most other artists; it is also applicable not only to his ’60s heyday, but almost as much to his ‘revival’, which has been going on now for at least the past 15 years. It’s quite a pitfall too, because it pertains equally to reviewers who opine ‘it’s as good as his best’ as it does to those who argue ‘it’s fine, but it’s not as good as his best’. (Now watch me fall into the second trap, and then try to drag myself out of it.)
  The only sane response to this conundrum is to yell loudly: ‘How could it be?’ (as good as his best, that is). It hardly needs me to reiterate that those mid-’60s albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde, didn’t just revise the rules, but changed the entire game, as regards how people produce and consume, make and think about, popular music, even people who don’t know about them or have never heard them. As Greil Marcus has written, that trilogy ‘…ranks with the most intense outbreaks of 20th century modernism.’ Equally, and without wishing to indulge in hyperbole, it is debatable whether or not a more viscerally honest, nakedly raging, poetic account of emotional turmoil has been committed to disc than Blood On The Tracks, before or since. Add to the weight of ‘How could it be?” the fact that Bob has mostly spent the years since these colossal watersheds in retreat, exploring, but hardly redefining or amalgamating, genres – blues, country, early rock’n’roll, some folk, a little jazz – which already existed prior to the musical revolution he instigated.
  Thus, witness the ridiculousness of the attention-seeking, gormless Paul Morley claiming, on BBC’s Culture Review, that Tempest is as good as Blonde On Blonde or Blood On The Tracks, albums one suspects he is more familiar with by reputation than experience. Consider also the normally perceptive Allan Jones, a man who really should know better, who in a breathlessly florid review in Uncut awards Tempest a 10/10 rating. So it’s a perfect (storm of a) record then, is it, Big Al? No, it isn’t. (This is the obligatory part of a Dylan review where I slag off other reviews.)
  Perhaps reactions like those highlighted are just symptomatic of the mainstream media's tendency to over-praise standard Dylan material now in over-compensation for all those years in the ’80s and ’90s they spent writing him off as a has-been.  Indeed, it is amusing to observe the more right-on elements of his audience, in their nervous revisionism, referring to his fundamentalist, evangelical Christian output as his ‘gospel’ period. As for the ‘fine, but not as good as his best’ wing, of which I am here pretty much one: as can be gleaned from the above argument, you aren’t really saying anything that isn’t patently obvious. Or did you really expect him to keep getting better with every new release? Or even to equal a run of creative excellence that few if any have equaled since, so that one can trot other that other great critical cliché, the ‘real return to form’. So, thank you for your valuable input. As for those who will think Tempest crap, well they’re just the same ones who’ve never liked him, or ‘don’t get him’, or think he ‘can’t sing’, and any new Dylan album isn’t going to change their minds at this stage. So, that’s why Tempest is unreviewable.
   However… (deep breath) … in some kind of attempt at balance between the craziness and redundancy of the extremes already outlined, let me try to continue the review by positing a potentially fruitful line of approach. Insofar as it’s impossible to judge this record in isolation from every other record Dylan has made (just as it would not be beneficial to do so in relation to any other artist and their oeuvre), that is, as though you’d never heard anything else by him before (which, in this unique case might well be ideal), let’s endeavor to imagine that it’s the latest release by any other established singer-songwriter of roughly similar age and background, contemporaries of Dylan’s like Kris Kristofferson, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Simon, etc.; and, in a like manner, let’s park the head-and-shoulders-above-anyone-else masterpieces for the moment, and treat Tempest like any other perfectly good Dylan album, which if anyone else produced it, would be applauded as a damn fine record, like Nashville Skyline, New Morning, Planet Waves, Desire, Street Legal, Infidels, Oh Mercy etc. (And isn’t it interesting that when reviewers write of a new Dylan album being ‘his best since…’, there is rarely any consensus about which album it’s his best since?)
  Like last year’s Tom Waits’ album Bad As Me, which kicked off with a train song, ‘Chicago’, Tempest starts with another upbeat ode to the rails, the trad jazzy ‘Duquesne Whistle’, replete with Satchmoesque vocal timbre and inflections. It’s pleasant, but feels ephemeral. Like many cuts on the album, if you’re looking for some unifying theme, it deals with an uncompleted journey. This one may yet reach its destination; others have been terminally interrupted.
  ‘Soon After Midnight’ is a tender love song, about not realising that the one you were looking for was there all along, which plays knowingly with too-obvious Tin Pan Alley rhymes: ‘It's now or never/More than ever/When I met you I didn't think you’d do/It's soon after midnight/And I don't want nobody but you.’ It’s followed by ‘Narrow Way’, a jaunty, chugging blues. Bolstered by the fiddle of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, it borrows a chorus from the Mississippi Sheiks' 1934 ‘You'll Work Down To Me Someday.’ It’s also a prime example of the too many incidences of dourly repetitive riffing that mars much of the album, which overall is lyrically fecund but musically unadventurous. Dylan has stuck rigidly to a now wearily familiar musical template, his favoured mode remaining a slow, listless shuffle. When this is combined with a tendency to let songs outstay their welcome, and a continued reliance on stale, reheated blues riffs, it’s a recipe for mediocrity. Plus, the band is not allowed nearly as much freedom as it was on 2009’s Together Through Life, and one misses the raunchier contributions of Tom Petty lieutenant, Mike Campbell to that record. What’s more frustrating, however, is that this is still a seasoned group of highly skilled musicians, who are not being permitted to deviate from a stagnant pool of melodic and harmonic ideas. Just because they are playing standard bar band music doesn’t mean they have to play it like a standard bar band.
  The next four tracks, sequenced plum in the middle of the ten selections, form the core of the album, and contain all that is best and most intriguing about it. ‘Long And Wasted Years’, built around a lovely descending tolling bells guitar riff in the turnaround, is an ostensible dissection of a long, stormy relationship or rough marriage, as plaintive as ‘Shelter From The Storm’ as it last verse mourns: ‘We cried on a cold and frosty morn/We cried because our souls were torn/So much for tears/So much for these long and wasted years.’
  ‘Pay In Blood’ is perhaps the angriest song Dylan has recorded since the romantic rage of ‘Idiot Wind’, or at least since his un-P.C. defense of the state of Israel,  ‘Neighbourhood Bully’. A funky, Stonesy stomp, whose riff and rhythm recall ‘Hand Of Fate’, it’s the album standout, because it puts some blood in the music. Even if the addressee, here as elsewhere, remains exasperatingly nebulous (although, as with ‘Early Roman Kings’ gangster bankers would be an educated guess), it’s good to hear the snarl is back. On an album that only occasionally aspires to the flightiness of Ariel, mostly in its beginning and ending, Dylan liberally lets fly with a few choice epithets throughout, echoing Caliban’s ‘You taught me language, and profit on it is, I know how to curse.’
  The eerie ‘Scarlett Town’ is a reworking of the traditional ballad ‘Barbara Allen’. With banjo and fiddle to the fore, it has the stately cadences of the Gillian Welch song, from last year’s The Harrow and The Harvest, with which it shares a title. The creamy, analogue delay, Gilmoresque guitar solo, which emerges near the end, is so surprising in the context of the rest of this album, and even this particular song, that it comes as quite a shock, albeit it a pleasant one.
  ‘Early Roman Kings’ is not the first song that has appropriated Muddy Waters’ ‘Mannish Boy’ riff, and it won’t be the last, but at least it imbues it with a country twinge, and has the novelty of David Hidalgo this time providing accordion accompaniment.
  I can’t much see the point of the love triangle revenge story related in ‘Tin Angel’, or at least not when recounted repetitiously at its nine minute length. The lapidary old testament vignettes on John Wesley Harding do the same kind of thing with more forceful economy and allegorical weight, making this bloated murder/suicide ballad a poor relation to ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’, without the complex and colourful plotline.
  And so we arrive at the 14 minute, 45 verse title track, which is also the weakest cut here, the gaping hole that should have been filled more discerningly, or else never let set sail.  The problem isn’t, perforce, length: the long song has long been a staple of Dylan’s repertoire, from as early as ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’, ‘With God On Our Side’, ‘Chimes Of Freedom’, and ‘Ballad In Plain D’, to middle period extensions like ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’, ‘Desolation Row’ and ‘Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands’, to more recent examples like ‘Highlands’ and ‘Ain’t Talkin’. Indeed, the exploding of the idea that ‘pop’ songs had to be short was one of the paradigm shifts effected by the Dylan revolution. (Remember that ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, although six minutes, three seconds long, was initially listed as six, and released as a double A-sided single, so it would still get played on the radio.)  Rather, the trouble is that so little is done with that 14 minute wide canvas. This time, more is not more; or rather, it is, but not in a good way. (Probably some readers think the same of this review.) The same lilting, 16 bar, waltz-time Irish melody repeated ad infinitum, with little or no variation, no revealing vocal ticks or technique, would get on anyone’s tits, and invites the eventual salutary use of the skip button. The Titanic may still sail at dawn, but this is no latter day ‘Desolation Row’, as Allen Jones unwisely suggests, lacking as it does that magnum opus’ frighteningly nightmarish imagery and surreally macabre cast of characters, and its edgy, wracked performance. Admittedly, the watchman laying dreaming the Titanic is sinking, while it actually is, is a cute conceit, but this is no brave new world that has such people in it, rather a collection of stock characters. Besides, Magpie Bob robbed that line from one of the many versions of ‘(The Titanic) It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down’, which is noteworthy, as he usually pilfers more extensively, and obviously, musically than lyrically. Check out renditions of that fine old ballad, by William and Versey Smith (on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music), the Carter Family, Leadbelly or Woody Guthrie, for a much more succinct meditation on this defining maritime disaster.  Aside from all of which, I’m sure Bob Dylan knows that The Titanic was sunk by an iceberg, not a storm, unless the general conflagration is what constitutes the metaphorical tempest.
  That leaves the closer, the Lennon tribute ‘Roll On John’, another tale of an aborted journey, which depending on your temperament, or even mood, can be described as ‘heartwarming’ or, alternatively, ‘mawkish’. At least it’s ‘better than’ The Cranberries’ risible ‘I Just Shot John Lennon.’
  A few more random observations, before we close: 1). Perhaps it’s again stating the bloody obvious, but Jack Frost, Dylan’s alter ego behind the console, would not be a go-to producer. Zim’s dislike of the studio, and especially modern recording methods, is well documented, but maybe it’s time he took a leaf out of his old mucker Johnny Cash’s book, and gave Rick Rubin a call. Concerned as he is with mortality, and specifically his own legacy, Cash’s example should prove instructive about how Rubin (or someone else of his ilk) could help him construct a dignified exit strategy. After all, Daniel Lanois brought a lot to Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind; 2). What is ultimately most appealing about this album is not the songs, or the ensemble performances, but Dylan’s voice. In the phrase ‘singer-songwriter’, more weight is usually attached to the second term, ironically a result of Dylan’s contribution to popular culture in the first place. But as Liam Gallagher has said of his John Lennon obsession, “It’s his voice”, even more so than the fact that he wrote great songs. And by ‘voice’, in relation to both Lennon and Dylan, we mean not just the sound they produce with their vocal chords, the phrasing and timbre and inflections, but the grain of the voice, in the way one speaks of a writer finding theirs. It’s not for nothing that, however many great cover versions there exist of Dylan’s or Lennon’s songs, people do tend to go back to the originals, or see them as defining. Of course, everyone will tell you that Dylan’s voice is shot, and has been for years. But it still remains a wonderfully expressive instrument. Desiccated and time-ravaged as it is, there is still a nobility in how it ‘goes on’, like an aged Beckett character with one foot in the grave, the woman in the rocking chair in Rockaby, fitfully intoning ‘More’. I wouldn’t be completely astounded if that croak survives croaking; 3). I’d be interested in hearing anyone argue against the hierarchy of unimpeachable Dylan classics which is an underlying assumption of this review. Maybe we elevate and revere the accepted meisterwerks too much. Maybe someone thinks the early folk albums were his pinnacle; maybe someone prefers him as an MOR crooner; maybe someone else is of the opinion that his late mature works are in fact his apogee, and he has been getting better all along. That would recast the evaluation of Tempest entirely.  
  So, there you have it: the proverbial curate’s egg, a decidedly mixed bag. Which means it’s certainly not up there with Blonde On Blonde, but nor is it down there with Self Portrait. Of his more recent albums, with which it makes far more sense to compare it, it’s not as good as Time Out Of Mind, but probably better than Modern Times. Which means it’s a must have for Dylanphiles (as indeed any new release from the man would be), but as one of the finer records of the year so far, despite its flaws, is also of interest to the casual fan.
  Our revels now are ended. For the time being, at least. But one suspects that this riverboat Prospero, like some Wizard of Oz shyster shaman, a trickster who is not necessarily a charlatan – a character type which stretches back in American letters at least as far as Mark Twain – has not quite abjured his rough magic, buried his staff and drowned his book, just yet.

Moonrise Kingdom

This piece was rather cruelly edited when it appeared on as part of their End of Year 'Best of' list, last January. So here's the full version. It was State's Film of the Year.

It is, of course, highly stylized, in the signature way all of Wes Anderson’s films are. At this stage in his filmmaking career, you probably know if the distanciation techniques of Anderson’s singular aesthetic – most obvious in the meticulous set and costume design and rectilinear, near-geometrical shots, but also there in the sometimes almost Japanese Noh play type acting – float your boat, or not. As far as I’m concerned, he has never made a bad film.
  Many of his recurring themes are present in this one too: fucked up, dysfunctional, well-heeled families (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited); precocious, outsiderish kids, in over their (expanding) heads (Rushmore); going on the lam (Bottle Rocket, The Darjeeling Limited again). Twelve year olds Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), two smart, unpopular kids, fall in love with each other in New Penzance, a little coastal town in New England, in 1965, and elope. That’s all you really need to know. Oh, and Sam is an orphan, a member of a scout troop on summer camp on the island, and Suzy is the eldest offspring of the local legal family. It was love at first sight the year before, and they’ve been writing to each other ever since. Perhaps the single most defining line of the movie is when Suzy opines to Sam: “I always wish I was an orphan, most of my favourite characters are. I think your lives are more special”, to which Sam succinctly replies: “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  The performances of the two newcomer leads are great (their love scene gets the pitch of their nascent sexuality just right), but so also are those of all the other principals: Frances McDormand and Bill Murray as Suzy’s estranged parents, who in an old ironic/romantic joke gone sour, like their relationship, address each other as ‘Counselor’; Bruce Willis as the local police captain; Edward Norton as the Scout Master. The loneliness of these adults’ barren lives is what you sense Sam and Suzy are desperate to avoid. Jason Schwartzman has a cameo as a cooky Cousin Ben, and Tilda Swinton is at her icy, demonic, cut-glass accent best as the dreadful and dreaded Social Services.
  I suspect what rubs most naysayers the wrong way about Wes Anderson’s films is the sense of wealth and privilege (or sometimes just plain unselfconscious arrogance) insulating characters from the problems of the so-called ‘real world’. Or else that his films don’t deal with ‘real’ problems at all. But these kids are vulnerable, especially Sam. You see, apart from being highly stylized, Moonrise Kingdom is also a love story. It is, finally, about the pain – and resilience – of being young, of trying to negotiate the transition from childhood to adulthood with as little messy adolescence as possible, and with precious few grown-up role models to look up to, much less emulate. Does love conquer all? You can bet your sweet bippy it does. 

Monday, 22 July 2013

Longitude - Sunday, July 21st

We went to Longitude in Marlay Park yesterday. A pleasant day at a well-organised festival.

Up first were Vancouver's Japandroids. I like their album, Celebration Rock. Having seen now them live, I like them even more.

Then it was Frightened Rabbit, who I knew nothing about. They're from Scotland. Diverting enough, although they maybe still don't know what kind of band they want to be. Sometimes they sound like The Byrds, with Scottish accents. Sometimes they sound like Big Country. Other times they sound a lot harder.

Then Mark Lanagan, who really should have stayed at home. I mean, I quite like his albums, but he's completely wrong for this kind of venue, a festival on a sunny afternoon. He should be in Whelan's on a rainy Wednesday in November. He gave nothing to the audience, except a parting, taciturn "Good afternoon". Who does he think he is, Bob Dylan? Also, he must spend a lot of time in the shade, or else he's got a particularly perverse make-up artist. Pale, or what?

Next up were Hot Chip, who would not be my tazza di tè, but at least they got people dancing.

Then the wonderful Yeah Yeah Yeahs, of whom I am a long-time fan. I saw them in Belfast, in St. George's Market, a few years ago. Karen O is certainly not a girl anymore. She used to wear dresses, now she wars suits. Let's hope married life is suiting her. She can still go apeshit, when she wants. Ably backed by Nick Zinner and Brian Chase. A pleasurable, good-humoured, set.

And finally, the men from Dusseldorf, the stunning audio-visual spectacle that is Kraftwerk.

Des and Jane just prior to Kraftwerk's appearance:

And then, the band:

Not forgetting the audience, like one of those photos of a '50s American B movie crowd:

Back to the band:

As my friend Brian Mahon opined with one-word succinctness, when I asked afterwards if he'd enjoyed their show: "BIZNESS! :-) '.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Saw Bobby Womack at The Olympia last Tuesday. In a word: class. He even sang my request, 'Used To Love Her' (long before The Saw Doctors, or indeed, Common), better known when covered by The Stones as 'It's All Over Now'.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy

So, did you hear about this new research in the States which finds that if you take Omega 3 supplements to reduce cholesterol you increase your chances of 'aggressive' prostate cancer by 71% I've been taking Omega 3 to reduce cholesterol for years. Should I stop now? If they don't get you one way, they'll get you another. Or, in the words of Hank Williams:

No matter how much I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Pacazo, By Roy Kesey


By Roy Kesey
(Jonathan Cape, £12.99 stg, H/B)
A pacazo is ‘an uncommonly large iguana, native to the environs of Piura, NW Peru’. John Segovia is an uncommonly large, 35-year-old Californian historian living in Piura, NW Peru. It is 1997, and he went there four years ago for his doctoral research on Peruvian history, and the horrors of the conquistadors – there is a vague family myth that he might be descended from a settler with whom he shares a name – but has not yet completed. Something of an eternal postgrad slacker, he instead teaches English language at the town’s university, his position there more tenuous than tenured, his visa status problematic. Given his bulk, and apparent ugliness, he identifies with the titular reptile. However, as the word can also define ‘a petty, bitter, local god who hates fat pale pillaging strangers’, he is also repelled by it – not least because in his first year on campus one defecated on his head from the branch of a tree he was walking under on his way to work, and it took weeks before he smelled good enough again for his students to approach him. So, self-loathing is much in the air.
  He has bigger problems, however, and greater reasons to hate himself. Ten months previously, his young wife, Pilar, has been raped, beaten and left for dead in the desert, dying of heatstroke later after wandering in the wrong direction. Segovia blames himself. So do his in-laws. And so he is left to care for their infant daughter, Mariangel, who was only four weeks old when the murder took place.   
  The local police, venal and corrupt, have given up on the case, and so Segovia searches obsessively for clues and for his suspected perpetrator, a taxi driver. In his time off, he scours the desert where Pilar’s body was found, accumulating dubious ‘evidence’. Otherwise, he visits prostitute ‘Jenny’ occasionally, and gets into trouble continually picking on the wrong people in the street, dark young men he mistakes for the culprit.
  When the floods of El Nino arrive, destroying his horde, it seems like a sign that it is time to move on. He begins socialising with his university colleagues again, even finding a new love in Karina. Then, when another woman who resembles his deceased wife is found raped and murdered in similar circumstances, and then two more, he goes into full maniacal mode again, even to the point of indulging in an episode of bodysnatching. The dénouement is disturbing, but not altogether surprising.
  Written in the present tense, foremost among Kesey’s stylistic ticks are unsignposted time shifts between Segovia’s current surroundings and scenes from Peruvian history, usually occurring mid-sentence. This imbues the prose with a dream-like quality, but also casts Segovia as an unreliable narrator. So lost is he in his interior thoughts and reflections, he doesn’t always see clearly what is going on around him. In general, the writing is beautifully cadenced, recalling the arresting simplicity of William Carlos Williams. The novel is also good on depicting academic disillusionment (but under the weight of such personal tragedy, what field of professional endeavour would not appear somewhat vacuous?), and the quotidian hassles of expatriate life.
   Pacazo is Kesey’s first full-length novel, after a novella, Nothing In The World, a short story collection, All Over, and a travel guide to the Chinese city of Nanjing. At over 500 pages, it is longer than it needs to be, suggesting that maybe shorter forms suit him better. The repeated scenes of checking taxi license plates, and missing intercity buses, tend to tire fourth time around. Also, having set the story up with a noirish element, it does seem like cheating the reader to suspend the ‘investigation’ plot for most of the book. But, then again, given the quality of the writing, it would be a brave editor who would decide what to leave out.
  Besides, Pacazo isn’t really a whodunit at all. It is a study of overpowering grief, remorse and anger, and incidentally the bemusements of first-time fatherhood. On those terms, it deserves to be read, even if it does wear out its welcome.

First published in The Sunday Independent.